Pleased to report that cuttings taken from my gấc, Momordica cochinchinensis have struck. There are challenges to growing this tropical vine…starting with finding seed.
Gấc, Momordica cochinchinensis, is a tropical fruit related to bitter melon (M. charantia). I saw my first gấc on sale in a tea plantation in Srimangal, Bangladesh. Native from SE Asia and China through Indonesia to far northern Queensland, gấc is a traditional food and medicinal plant.
The soft, fleshy aril surrounding the seed are used to colour and flavour rice. It tastes somewhat like concentrated tomato.
Across Vietnam, gấc rice (xôi gấc) is served for the New Lunar Year. The aril may also gently fried in cooking oil (see below) which absorbs the vibrant colour and rich flavour so that when you subsequently cook other foods, the gac oil imparts its colour and flavour. Gấc oil extends the usefulness of a crop with a short picking season and which doesn’t store well when fresh.
Unfortunately, the ‘wellness’ industry has started exploiting products containing gấc. Gấc is certainly high in phytonutrients: it has fifty to seventy times as much lycopene as the best tomatoes, but it is unlikely to cure cancers.
I know of no Australian source of seed, either through commerce or seed saving networks. In 2016, I found a ripe fruit up a rainforest tree on a roadside in Mossman. It shared its support with a native yam and it was the yam that caught my attention.
The seed germinated and all went well until I discovered that caterpillars in the genus Spodoptera can strip a vine bare in a few days. Attacks follow summer rain and storms. Control with Dipel, pyrethrum or a spraying oil works well, but you have to be prompt and thorough.
So far, only carpenter bees seem interested in the flowers, so I am the bee. I pollinate by hand.
Space is an issue in a home garden, because gấc is a sun-loving vine growing as large as a passionfruit, only faster.
Gấc is also dioecious, so expect to wait 8 – 18 months (in Brisbane) for vines to mature and bloom so you can identify individuals by gender. That done, I culled excess male plants to give the females more space.
Seed is a lottery and a batch of seedlings take time and considerable space to declare their gender, so propagating female plants by cutting is advantageous. My partner, a Vietnamese market gardener, tells me this approach is unconventional.
I’ll let the cuttings develop a reasonable root system before potting on individually.
In 2019, I produced one fruit. By 2022, I hope to be able to produce a reasonable crop of fruit and seed for sharing.
For further information about Momordica cochinchinensis, click on this link.
Director, Seed Savers’ Network Inc.
31st January 2020